LAR (3-1) @ SEA (2-2) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The start of battles in the NFC West last week gave us some clarity on the NFL’s toughest division, and now we get a huge clash tonight with the Rams hoping to get back on track against the Seahawks. The success of Seattle in primetime under Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson—particularly at home—is well documented, and they are seeking their tenth Thursday Night Football win in a row, so Matthew Stafford simply has to play better than he did last week if Los Angeles hopes to build on what they did over the first three weeks. The health of Chris Carson (neck) needs to be monitored considering his success versus LA throughout his career (94.8 rushing yards per game; 5.1 yards per carry), but balance will be key either way, as it allows Wilson to have more space to find D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Even in a January playoff loss, Metcalf showed he can beat Jalen Ramsey, and I expect they will see a lot of one another in single coverage. The way Stafford played last week combined with Wilson’s under-the-lights success (29-8-1 record) has me leaning Seahawks.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
NYJ (1-3) @ ATL (1-3) | SUN 9:30 AM ET (London) | NFL Network
A couple of one-win teams matching off in London isn’t that exciting on paper, but the Jets and Falcons both have players that can “wow” the fans—including rookie quarterback Zack Wilson, who should only continue to gain comfort with a victory under his belt. It’s interesting that New York and Atlanta are the only teams in the league without an interception, and they also happen to have allowed the most touchdowns passes (Falcons: 11) and fewest touchdown passes (Jets: two) through four games; I don’t know what that means for this week, but there is underrated offensive talent on both sides, and what always seems to be a sloppy field across the pond could play a factor with fast weapons like Cordarrelle Patterson and Tevin Coleman potentially breaking a big play if a defender takes a poor angle in space. It may need to be in a shootout because of the state of the Atlanta defense, but even without Calvin Ridley (personal), Matt Ryan’s experience gets the edge.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
DET (0-4) @ MIN (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The lack of outside playmakers in Detroit is no secret, but Jared Goff has done his best to make plays anyway, and the expanded creativity should only help him and the Lions in the future. Overall, the offense moved the ball fairly well against Chicago last week, and Dan Campbell’s squad has been close, so Minnesota can’t sleep on them following a hard-fought loss to the Browns. Unfortunately for Mike Zimmer, his defense had their best game right when Kirk Cousins and the offense got cold, and they badly need to put everything together to prevent the wheels from falling off ahead of a difficult stretch through the end of November (@ CAR, v DAL, @ BAL, @ LAC, v GB, @ SF). For what it’s worth, Minnesota has gone 6-0 versus Detroit since signing Kirk Cousins, but Campbell and Goff—who absolutely torched Minnesota back in 2018 with 465 yards and five touchdowns on a Thursday night—won’t be a cakewalk. I have the Vikings winning a game that remains close into the fourth quarter.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
NO (2-2) @ WAS (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Washington running back J.D. McKissic—who played in Seattle for three years—has compared Taylor Heinicke to Russell Wilson twice already this season, and I don’t see how the team doesn’t stick with the 28-year-old quarterback as the starter for at least the remainder of 2021. Heinicke played too well in the playoff loss to the Bucs for it to be considered a fluke, but anyone who claimed that has to be rethinking their position, and Washington can stay right on the Cowboys’ tails if the pass rush comes alive to put away games. This week, the Saints will again be without Terron Armstead (elbow) at left tackle, so it’s a great time for Chase Young to get on the board with his first sack of the season or put pressure on Jameis Winston to force him into a mistake. New Orleans will again have a significant role for Taysom Hill, but explosiveness has been an issue on offense and will continue to be until Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring) returns to stretch the field.
Winner: Washington Football Team
NE (1-3) @ HOU (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I know many fans want a track meet every week, but Buccaneers-Patriots was an awesome game in my opinion, and although the rain gets an assist, it should be looked back in history as masterful job by Bill Belichick to hold former apprentice Tom Brady and a high-powered offense to 19 points. For many teams, traveling down to Houston after an emotional matchup could be a trap game, but not New England, and sitting at 1-3 will only have them focused on getting back on track. To me, Sunday is a spot to get Damien Harris and the running game going, and I like that the Pats have gotten everyone involved at wide receiver and tight end—which will only make them more challenging to defend as Josh McDaniels opens things up for Mac Jones. The Texans play hard, but Davis Mills could be in for another long day with Belichick being 22-6 versus rookie quarterbacks, including 9.5 points per game allowed over the past six such matchups.
Winner: New England Patriots
MIA (1-3) @ TB (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
One thing I think the Patriots didn’t do enough on Sunday night was attack Richard Sherman (Nelson Agholor was rarely matched up against him), but Miami saw what everyone else saw, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t find a way to get Jaylen Waddle matched up on the 33-year-old cornerback. Whether it’s bringing down the rookie in space or trying to run with him vertically, Sherman might not be up to the task, so the Dolphins have to find out early and often. Tampa Bay has also struggled to defend tight ends, so Jacoby Brissett will ideally keeping Mike Gesicki involved as his favorite target through two starts. That being said, stopping Tom Brady will be the tough part on Sunday, and Byron Jones (quadricep, Achilles) being out would make it easier for TB12 to avoid Xavien Howard in a likely matchup with Mike Evans. If so, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown could be in for monster days versus Justin Coleman and Nik Needham.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
GB (3-1) @ CIN (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Some of the star power being sapped from the game is disappointing with Jaire Alexander (shoulder) out for Green Bay and Joe Mixon (ankle) looking unlikely for Cincinnati, but Packers-Bengals is still an exciting NFC-AFC matchup between playoff-hopeful teams. Tee Higgins (shoulder) at least sounds like he will be back to round out Joe Burrow’s standout trio of wideouts, so Green Bay needs Preston Smith and Rashan Gary to collapse the pocket against an offensive line that has walled up with one sack allowed over the past two weeks (after previously allowing ten sacks in the first two games). Assuming Mixon is out, I think the Bengals still need to be committed to Samaje Perine and the running game—and failing to do so could cause the score to get out of hand by trying to go blow-for-blow with Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay has bounced back since the opener, but I think an offensive explosion is still bubbling (limited to 224.3 passing yards per game so far), and it could come this weekend with Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and Robert Tonyan leading the way.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
DEN (3-1) @ PIT (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I am no fan of the media as a whole for a variety of reasons (even just finding the succeeding link is an example with everyone stealing the quote/screenshot rather than retweeting the original), but many reporters do a good job, and Mike Tomin took the time to speak with Denver media this week because of the respect he has for the work people put in. Pittsburgh might have too many issues to climb out of a 1-3 start, but I wouldn’t bet against them, and Tomlin will right the ship in the long run. At worst, I expect the defense will be flying around this week for a probable slugfest, as cutting down Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams will put the pressure on Teddy Bridgewater, and that’s where T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and others will be able to create turnovers. The health of Ben Roethlisberger (pectoral/hip) and concerns about keeping Von Miller away from him could mean another disappointment for the Steelers, but I have faith in Tomlin and his guys at home.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
PHI (1-3) @ CAR (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Carolina is already a contender in Year 2 of the Matt Rhule era, and trading for All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore—after already drafting Jaycee Horn in the top ten, signing A.J. Bouye, and trading for C.J. Henderson (with Donte Jackson on the roster)—shows they are serious about challenging the Bucs in the division. Of course, Gilmore is still on the PUP list and Horn (foot) won’t have a chance to return until late in the year, but the coverage combined with the pass rush is what’s needed to have a chance to knock off Tom Brady in January. This week, Brian Burns will hope to track down Jalen Hurts and prevent the dual-threat quarterback from using his legs to escape the pocket, and the temperature will really begin to rise for Nick Sirianni (and should for Howie Roseman) if the Eagles are again outcoached—especially if the penalties continue to pile up. Hurts has showed poise and promise, but there are too many holes on both sides of the ball.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
TEN (2-2) @ JAX (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I won’t dive into the Urban Meyer situation other than to say it never felt like it would work out, and I would be surprised if he lasted more than two years in the NFL; if team owner Shad Khan is already feeling the same way—and he needs to ask himself if he believes Meyer can win them a Super Bowl—then it doesn’t make sense to waste Trevor Lawrence for a single day more by having the wrong person as head coach. On the field, Sunday will be telling in terms of the faith Jacksonville players have in Meyer, as they’ve played hard to date, but getting run through by Derrick Henry like previous years would be an indication that any work put in over the past several months might have been erased. For the Titans, getting A.J. Brown (hamstring) back appears to be a very real possibility after he returned to practice on Wednesday, and they need to put away the Jags this week to avoid opening up the AFC South to the entire division.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
CLE (3-1) @ LAC (3-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Kansas City and Buffalo are viewed as the class of the AFC, but the Browns and Chargers are right behind them, and an emphasis on the running game—sorry, analytics crowd—is a huge reason for it. While Los Angeles doesn’t have a traditional feature back like Nick Chubb, they still make opponents pay with Austin Ekeler between the tackles if too much attention goes to Mike Williams and Keenan Allen; in general, head coach Brandon Staley’s expertise on both sides of the ball along with having a rising superstar at quarterback will make LA a perennial contender. Cleveland also feels very good about what they have leading their team, but Baker Mayfield (shoulder) is not playing well at less than 100%, and failing to hit on the downfield plays to Odell Beckham Jr. obviously holds the offense back. I’m expecting a great game, but Herbert and the Chargers should come out on top if Chubb doesn’t have one of those monster performances that we’ve yet to see in 2021.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
CHI (2-2) @ LV (3-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Chicago is fast-tracking their development plan for Justin Fields after a win over the Lions, but is it the right move? The Raiders have created pressure as well as any team this season, so Fields won’t have the time he did against Detroit, and then the Bears go through a gauntlet of NFC contenders to finish off October (v GB, @ TB, v SF). Maybe there is an under-the-table agreement—as some have speculated—for Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace to be guaranteed their jobs into 2022, but 2-6 is a real possibility by Halloween Night, and Fields is being thrown into the fire with one disastrous start and one low-volume start (11 completions) under his belt. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks what the headlines are in Chicago, but hopefully Fields is given time to uncork more deep passes to Darnell Mooney, and it’d be great to get Allen Robinson involved vertically, too. On the other side of the ball, Khalil Mack will be matched up against swing tackle Brandon Parker with first-round pick Alex Leatherwood kicking inside from right tackle to right guard, and it feels like the season can go south in a hurry for Las Vegas despite a 3-0 start. Still, I’ll say Monday night’s loss had more to do with the strength of the Chargers than anything else, and the Raiders should bounce back.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
SF (2-2) @ ARI (4-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Jimmy Garoppolo (calf) shouldn’t be counted out from playing in a crucial game versus the Cardinals, but Trey Lance is the likely starter on Sunday, and if Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) is able to get cleared, we might get a look at the future of San Francisco’s offense with three rookies—Lance, Mitchell, and Trey Sermon—leading a unique, run-heavy attack. Whether or not Mitchell plays, I think the Niners should try to pound the ball with Sermon to test the strength/toughness of Arizona’s defense between the tackles, and Lance holding backside defenders will open holes. As someone high on the No. 3 overall pick entering the league (my comparison was Donovan McNabb with a dash of Kyler Murray), I don’t think he’s ready to be a full-time starter (and Kyle Shanahan doesn’t seem to think so either), but a spot start without the Cardinals having much to go off of in terms of defensive preparation could be enough to pull off the upset. Although I’m not exactly confident in the pick, what happened to the Rams last week could now happen to Arizona in Week 5.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
NYG (1-3) @ DAL (3-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
You can’t have a must-win game in early October, but for a team with playoff hopes in New York, this is about as close as it can get—as Dallas could run away from the pack (or at least the Giants and Eagles) if they improve to 4-1 and push Joe Judge’s team to 1-4. Quarterback clearly isn’t the problem for New York, and Daniel Jones’ first interception of the season didn’t even matter as he threw for 402 yards and two scores in an overtime win last week; his play along with Saquon Barkley’s return to form will make them competitive versus anyone with the defensive talent coming together. However, this weekend will be perhaps the final step for Dak Prescott getting fully past last year’s devastating ankle injury as he faces the team he went down against, and there is no reason to believe the Cowboys’ star quarterback won’t be up for the challenge as Dallas continues to somehow be under the radar in the NFC (for maybe the first time since Jerry Jones bought the team).
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
BUF (3-1) @ KC (2-2) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Sunday night is a massive game for both the Bills and Chiefs, as a Buffalo win would put them comfortably in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while Kansas City would have a tall hill to climb in order to make up what would essentially be a three-game deficit to their fellow AFC powerhouse. Josh Allen hasn’t played his best football versus the Chiefs, but the offense is rolling, and Emmanuel Sanders has been an important addition to add more explosiveness to support Stefon Diggs. Plus, rookie offensive tackle Spencer Brown was impressive on the right side last week, and his size (six-foot-eight) makes him someone that can match Chris Jones on the edge. Defensively, the Bills will try to limit game-breaking plays from Tyreek Hill, and I’m very interested to see how much Josh Gordon plays—I think it might be a lot, and he could make opponents pay for sending too many resources to Hill and Travis Kelce. Overall, Sean McDermott will want Patrick Mahomes to hand it off to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but Buffalo needs to avoid missed tackles for whoever has the ball. I’ve been wrong twice before, but if Allen is at his best, I think the Bills will finally get past Kansas City and set up a Super Bowl run.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
IND (1-3) @ BAL (3-1) | SUN 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 7, 2021
Credit to Marlon Humphrey for saying he might give The Wire another shot, but that deserves a “Come on, man!” for one of Baltimore’s best players.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens